Category Archives: Death Valley

Pioneer Days in Kern County

THE Boundaries of the Mojave Desert are difficult to define. In Kern County it commences at the easterly base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From there on it is a continuation of desert as far east as Utah and also covers most of Nevada and Arizona and the southeasterly portion of California. So far as I know, however, only those portions of the desert in the easterly part of Kern County and the northerly part of San Bernardino County are designated on the map as the Mojave Desert.

Mt Whitney – Eastern Sierra Nevada

In my youth the Mojave Desert was regarded by the traveler and prospector as a place to be dreaded and of genuine danger for travel, both in the winter and the summer seasons. In those days there were no mapped roads and in fact very little in the way of roads, usually just two ribbons through the sand where the teaming was being done.

While the springs and watering holes on the desert were reasonably well known, yet they were uncharted and distances were unmarked. There were, therefore, many tragedies recounted of prospectors and travelers dying of thirst in the summertime and of exposure in the winter season, and frequently bodies were not found until they were skeletons.

Mojave Desert

My Dad often made excursions to the Mojave Desert for prospecting purposes. He firmly believed until the last remaining years of his life that he was some day to find a fabulously rich
mine, so every now and then he would take a team and wagon, with his bed and cooking outfit and a barrel to haul water for himself and his team and make a prospecting trip to the desert.

Ordinarily he was not gone over a month or two, but the last time he was on the desert for two years.

He, of course, became thoroughly acquainted with all the roads, trails, and springs and was well able to lookout for himself and yet, he tells of one instance where he and his two companions almost lost their lives because of having gotten off the road which they should have taken and not discovering it until it was too late to turn back.

It was in the summertime and they left early in the morning, as most of the traveling was done at that time on the desert so that they might avoid the heat and also be sure of arriving at their water hole in ample time.

When they became aware of the fact that they had taken the wrong road they found themselves in a country with which they were totally unacquainted and had no knowledge where the next water was to be found.

As they were following something of a road and as it headed into some mountains in the distance, they felt sure they would find water when they got to these mountains so kept pushing on. The water they had with them gave out shortly after midday and from that time on both the horses and the three men suffered terribly from thirst. This, of course, slowed the pace of the horses. The tongues of all three men swelled badly.

Finally Dad’s two companions became delirious. Dad always said he saved himself by placing a $5 gold piece underneath his tongue. This caused an additional flow of saliva. I have also read in desert lore that if you will cut a small piece of live greasewood and then peel it and place it
on either side and underneath the tongue, it will materially aid the flow of saliva and delay the swelling of the tongue. As your thirst increases one undergoes great torture and finally the tongue swells so badly you are totally unable to talk and in time you become delirious.

The men finally arrived at a canyon in which they could hear the drip of water. It  was quite  some distance from where the road crossed the canyon. Dad unhitched the team and took them, together with the burro and also all the canteens which they had along and started
up the canyon toward the drip of the water. He finally found a small spring dripping into
a barrel. He realized the danger of over-drinking to both the animals and himself. Therefore,
he securely tied the animals before going to the water and then watered them by a bucket he
had along and allowed them to drink only a bucketful at a time. He was also very cautious of the amount he himself drank. He then filled his canteens and retraced his steps to where his two companions were. He laid them both on the ground, covered their faces with a woolen blanket and poured the water onto the blanket, so that the only moisture they could get was what they could suck from the blanket. This was necessary to avoid over-drinking. He kept this up all
night long. By morning they had sufficiently recovered to be able to speak and to take a little nourishment. It required all the next day, however, before the two of them recovered fully.

They then found themselves in a bad dilemma as they did not know where they were, or
whether to attempt to follow the old wagon trail further, or turn around and go back. They finally decided upon the latter, but retraced their steps mostly during the night and early morning hours.

It was certainly a very narrow escape. Dad always had many stories to tell of the other instances which he knew had happened, of tragedies and near tragedies which had occurred on the desert.

I also had a chat at one time with a Mr. Fairbanks, who for many years ran a small hotel at Shoshone in Inyo County.

He had participated in many rescues on the desert and also in the finding of many who had not been rescued, all of which rather closely resembled the tales which Dad used to relate.

I also knew of an instance of two miners who had spent years mining on the Mojave Desert and were acquainted with all roads and trails and watering places. The had gone to town for  supplies, traveling by night. The next night they attempted to return and took what they thought was a short cut. They got mixed up in some unexpected washes and erosions and did not reach camp until three o’clock the following afternoon. Their tongues were swollen so
they were unable to speak, but did reach camp before they be came delirious. They saved their lives by sucking cold coffee through a woolen blanket.

Badwater Basin & Telescope Peak, Death Valley

One time I spent thirty days in Death Valley. It was in April and the weather was quite pleasant, but I was genuinely tortured by thirst. While I had plenty of good water, it would not quench
my thirst. Every swallow was delicious, but each swallow called for another one and no matter how much I drank the thirst continued.

Each day I went to the spring and got into a barrel full of water and stayed in an hour or more,  with the hope this would help to relieve the inordinate demand for moisture. It did help, but very little. I finally took refuge in an old mining tunnel and for four days ate and drank nothing except cold tomatoes. This eventually alleviated the intense desire for moisture.

We never left camp that we did not take with us three or four canteens of water. We had a little Ford pickup that we used in traveling around the territory. This was before the days of good roads.

At that time the roads were nothing much more than wagon wheel tracks through the sand  and, of course, there were no maps. It was fortunate I was with one who thoroughly knew Death Valley and where every wagon track led to. However, we never left the pickup, even to be gone only an hour, that we did not take a canteen of water with us and usually the water was all
gone by the time we got back to the car. The real cause of the inordinate thirst was the excessive dryness of the atmosphere.

Today there are, of course, excellent roads properly marked and excellent accommodations in Death Valley. It is a genuinely pleasant place to which one can make a trip in the winter and  early spring, and also a place to avoid in the summertime.

Senna

To me the desert has always been a place of great charm. There are beauties to be seen  everywhere and the desert flowers are unsurpassed in beauty.

The many carvings from erosion are often as magnificent and as lacy as the carvings on the cathedrals of Europe and the formations caused by these erosions are of many colorings, making a genuinely inspiring sight to view.

In addition to all of the above is the ever-present haze on the desert. All is inspiring to one who loves the great outdoors. The greatest inspiration, however, is to spend a night on the desert, out underneath the stars. To me there is nothing more moving. You have heard of the beauty which filters down through tinted windowpanes. That is nothing compared to the inspiration  which comes to one when spending a night on the desert, out underneath the great dome of Heaven. It certainly makes one feel that there is a great God over all.

from;
Chap 39 – Mojave Desert
Pioneer Days in Kern County
by Arthur S. Crites
Los Angeles
The Ward Ritchie Press – 1951

Tempest in Silver

TODAY’S TRAVELER to Panamint sees a crazy quilt of bare foundations and ramshackle walls. He marvels, too, at the old brick mill which for almost 100 years has challenged decay and oblivion. But it is not what he sees that affects the traveler; it’s what he feels. As he stands on the road looking up Surprise Canyon which nestles unpretentiously on the Western slope of the Panamint Range, about 10 miles south of Telescope Peak, the years roll back. Breezes echo gruff, untutored voices, and there is a raucous clang as the 20-stamp mill’s witchery produces precious silver ingots for shipment to “Frisco,” fabled financial capitol of the 70s. The lizard on the big granite boulder is unimpressed that a bearded miner’s pick lay on this same rock many years ago. And now, one looks vainly on the old dirt road for tracks of heavily-loaded desert burros. They’re gone just like the silver city herself.

The story of Panamint probably began in 1859 with the discovery of the Comstock lode. On this’ date a silver fever began which swept the United States and was especially “fatal” in the Western frontier where curiously every man was a modern day Jason tirelessly searching for his kind of fleece. But after 1859 many frontier men thought of just one thing—to trek the unknown for silver.

Indian George

Indian George

William T. Henderson was such a man. Spurred on by the silver news emanating daily from the Comstock, and from legends of the enormously rich lost Gunsight mine, the bearded prospector coaxed his burro across colorful Death Valley. With him were S. P. George and Indian George. S. P. George was weaned on the old gunsight lore. Indian George had long since discarded the ways of the red man and made the hopes of the white man his own.

These three dreamers in I860 skirted the flaming cliffs on the west side of Panamint Mountain. While Henderson found nothing to satisfy his thirst for silver, there was something about the ancient granite and metamorphic rocks of Panamint escarpment that promised wealth untold. So, he returned. This time with a legendary adventurer named William Alvord, a sourdough named Jackson, and the ever faithful Indian George. Again Henderson’s dreams of wealth were stymied. He left Panamint never to return. Alvord, his partner, was more unfortunate still. In the upper reaches of Surprise Canyon he was bushwacked by Jackson and left for vultures. All these anxious probings for silver into the desolate sunscorched Panamints were futile. Silver wasn’t discovered until late in 1872 when two of the most colorful champions of the silver west, R. E. Jacobs and Bob Stewart, wandered up Surprise Canyon and found a huge fragment of rich silver ore.

The great migration to the silver diggings began. Crude buildings sprang up like mushrooms after a spring rain. The most useful Panamint edifice was, of course, the Surprise Valley Mining and Water Company’s 20-stamp mill. It was finished in a matter of weeks while miners with huge stacks of ore chaffed at the bit. Good mechanics, carpenters, and millwrights got top wages of $6 per day. Most popular, of course, were the saloons and Panamint in those days had some fine ones. Like San Francisco, Panamint had its own Palace Hotel. Its barroom was built by skilled Panamint craftsmen and had a beautiful black walnut top. On the side walls were handsome pictures of voluptuous females in varying states of dishabille. But Dave Neagle, the owner of this splendid saloon, was especially proud of his magnificent mirror. It was 8 x 6 feet with double lamps on each side.

Fred Yager early determined that his “Dexter” saloon was going to surpass Neagle’s. Fred especially wanted the finest mirror in town. So, he sent to San Diego for a beauty. The mirror installed was to be a 7 x 12 foot sparkler. Tragedy struck, however, when an inebriated miner fell on the shimmering reflector just as it was being positioned against the wall. Sheltered in the confines of his Palace, Dave must have smiled at his rival’s sore plight—perhaps murmuring encouragingly that breaking a mirror leads to seven years bad luck.

There were two outstanding architectural omissions in Panamint. There was no jail—criminals had to be taken to Independence for incarceration. Further, though it was sorely needed, Panamint never had a hospital. On several occasions Panamint News editors Carr and later Harris cried out in their columns for a community hospital. Interestingly enough, the two crusading editors were mute concerning the lack of a jail.

Although it was not bruited about as such, the building owned and tastefully decorated by Martha Camp, played a significant role in the development of the new town. In Martha’s care was a bevy of attractive, if overly painted, young ladies whose lives were dedicated to two things: to make money and keep miners content.

It cannot be doubted, however, that Panamint prosperity was due to its mines. The two richest were suitably entitled Jacobs Wonder and Stewarts Wonder. Assays of these two mines showed ore values ranging from $100 to $4,000 per ton, the average being about $400. Stewart, a well known Nevada senator, later joined with another Nevada senator, J. P. Jones, to form Surprise Valley’s biggest mining combine, The Surprise Valley Company. Stewart and Jones had other
local interests. They owned the Surprise Valley Water Company and a toll road procured from grizzly Sam Tait which trailed up Surprise Canyon. Charges for ascending this road were quite nominal: $2.00 for a wagon, 4 bits for a horseman, and 2 bits for a miner and burro.

The two editors of the Panamint News, at first Carr and later Harris, were rhapsodic in their faith in Panamint’s ultimate prosperity. Late in 1874 the front page of the news throbbed with excitement. “There is reason to believe, the News stated, that a busy population of from three to four thousand souls will be in Panamint in less than a year,” and later, “When we begin to send out our bullion it will be in such abundance as will cause the outside world to wonder if our mountains are not made of silver.” Harris’ beginning enthusiasm must have haunted him later, for his paper of March 2, 1875 modestly informs us that “there were only 600 people at Panamint.”

Despite the fact that the Havilah Miner proclaimed that Panamint City’s silver yield would one day eclipse the Comstock, capital funneled slowly and sporadically into the silver city. Private persons mostly subsidized Panamints mining activities. Senator Jones’ faith in Panamint was shown by hard cash accumulations of partially developed mines. The Senator’s brother caught the silver virus and plunked down $113,000 for a number of claims in the Panamint district. Stock sales never boomed. One wonders if the wildly energetic silver sun of the Comstock lode were not out to eclipse a potential rival. After all, shares in the Con Virginia were flirting a’la Croesus with the San Francisco stock exchange at the $700 mark. More dramatic was E. P. Raine’s method of seeking money for Panamint. He carted 300 lbs. of rich ore across the Mojave to Los Angeles. He staggered into the Clarendon Hotel and dumped the ore on a billiard table. Unfortunately, hotel patrons were more interested in the fact that Raine bought drinks for all than they were in the welfare of Panamint.

Remi Nadeau

Probably the most popular method of getting freight to Panamint was sending goods via Remi Nadeau’s Cerro Gordo Freighting Company. Remi’s swaggering mule teams made daily trips from San Fernando to the Panamint mines. Remi was ever the epitome of optimism. Although untouched by such 20th Century transportation behemoths as the cross country truck and the jet cargo plane, Remi’s corporate slogan was “all goods marked C. G. F. C. will be forwarded with dispatch.”

But most characteristic of Panamint transportation in the early days was the solitary miner who arrived on foot followed by a heavily-laden burro. Within his hair-matted bosom slumbered the lion’s share of the vigor and courage of frontier America. Courage, however, wasn’t always the answer on the torrid road to  Panamint. Bleached bones of unlucky prospectors sparkled all too frequently in the Mojave sun. When Panamint hearts were at their lightest and silver ore seemed to stretch like a ribbon of wealth to the center of the earth, the people of Panamint, spear headed by their grey-haired champion, Senator Jones, attempted to build a railroad from Shoo Fly (Santa Monica) to Independence. This railroad was to make Panamint the silver empire of the world. Already England was being heralded as an inexhaustible market for Panamint silver. Unfortunately, however, the railroad was to remain a dream railroad. The project clashed with the wishes of the great Southern Pacific quadrumvirate of Stanford, Crocker, Hopkins, and Huntington. The proposed Shoo Fly to Independence railroad won some initial battles—Senator Jones’ Chinese laborers soundly trounced a corps of General Huntington’s forces in the Cajon Pass, but the good Senator lost the decisive battle for his beloved railroad in the hallowed halls of Congress. The Southern Pacific, sans Winchester, had a clear blueprint for winning the West.

Panamint City,1875

Recreation for Panamint’s thrifty merchants and boisterous sourdoughs centered, of course, in the city’s saloons. Whiskey was excellent and surly Jim Bruce dealt in a neat hand of faro. Whether tired miners came into Dave Neagle’s to ogle at pictures of nude ladies, to have a few drinks, or to chat with lovely, but garishly painted young ladies, all present usually had a good
time. Rarely was there serious gun play. Once a Chinese window washer served as target for the six gun of a frolicsome and intoxicated miner, but usually life in a Panamint bar did little to disturb the city’s reputation as an “orderly community.” In their more gentle moments, some men attended the Panamint Masonic Lodge.

For the respectable female, recreational possibilities were severely limited. Legendary is the dance that Miss Delia Donoghue, proprietress of the Wyoming Restaurant, threw in honor of George Washington, the father of her country. To a four piece combo led by learned Professor
Martin and paced by the twangs of a soused harpist, doughty men danced with 16 lovely ladies, almost the entire female population of the city.

Panamint certainly wasn’t as wicked as Tombstone, but it had its share of crime. Crime in this petulant silver metropolis ranged from writing threatening letters and petty thievery to infamous murder. The anonymous letters were sent to editor Harris. They criticized his reporting of the murder of Ed Barstow, night watchman for the Panamint News building, by gun fighter and chief undertaker Jim Bruce. This murder took place in Martha Camp’s pleasure house on Maiden Lane. Ed learned that his pal Jim was making time with Sophie Glennon who, demimonde damsel or not, was his girl. He burst into the bedroom firing his six gun blindly. Jim, drawing from his wide experience in such emergencies, sighted his target carefully and pumped two bullets into his erstwhile friend. A sentimental wrapping was given the whole affair when on his death bed Barstow confessed that he was drunk at the time and that his friend was guiltless. More sentiment was piled on when editor Harris used the crime as an excuse for moralizing on the dangers of drink.

A woman figured in one Panamint murder. Sleek Ramon Montenegro resented the words Philip de Rouche used to his comely escort. Montenegro, as lithe as a rattlesnake and with all its speed, knocked down the offender. For revenge, de Rouche later used the butt of his gun to play tattoo on Montenegro’s face. However, the handsome Latin won out in the end. Panamint sreets were a sea of flame for one moment as Montenegro’s gun flashed and killed the Frenchman. Taken to Independence for trial by Deputy Sheriff Ball, Montenegro was tried by a
Grand Jury and, although pleading guilty, was acquitted.

Panamint’s most celebrated crime would probably never have been committed if Panamint were a stable community and due process of law an accepted way of righting wrongs in the silver city. A. Ashim was a respected member of the Panamint community. He belonged to the
local Masonic Lodge and ran the town’s largest general merchandising business. But like most town males, Ashim had a six gun and had experience using it. So, when Nick Perasich ran off to Darwin leaving behind an unpaid bill of $47.50 at his store, Ashim walked into a Darwin restaurant. There Ashim shot Perasich three times, killing him instantly. The vendetta which resulted was not inferior to Mafia revenge killings of our day. Perasich’s brothers, led by the volatile Elias, pressed to kill Ashim. They almost succeeded. Hiding behind cornstalks along the roadside, they intercepted the stage and fired into it. Ashim escaped, but his mother received a powder burn on her nose.

Panamint stage coach

But it was those wily ex-New Yorkers, Small and McDonald, who turned Panamint criminology into something resembling a comic opera. From their infamous castle nestled in Wild Rose Canyon, these disheveled silver “knights” rode their sleek chargers into clandestine rendezvous
with those jolting fortresses of the West, Wells-Fargo stage coaches. Once, the wily knaves hunted for a silver mine—and found one. They had no intention of working it. As soon as they could, they unloaded the mine on Senator Stewart. Money received from the sale of the mine
could not have come at a more fortuitous moment for the unholy pair. They had been apprehended by Jim Hume, Wells-Fargo investigator, for robbing the Eureka and Palisades stage. Wells-Fargo forgot to press charges when Small and McDonald turned over to them the money received from the Senator for the sale of the mine.

After their close brush with Wells-Fargo, a legend started by twinkle-eyed Senator Stewart says that the desperados kept their eye on Senator Stewart’s progress with his new mine. Alarmed by the undue concern of the bandits with his property, Stewart devised a clever ruse to
foil the waiting thieves. He melted ore from the mine into five silver balls weighing over 400 pounds each. When the bandits thought the time was ripe, they opened their saddle bags and
pounced on the mine. Imagine their amazement at the sight of the five huge balls of silver. Legend adds that Stewart was horribly vilified by the disappointed pair for his unsportsmanlike conduct. In this case, however, legend is not correct. Remi Nadeau tells us in his book on California ghost towns that Stewart’s mill fashioned five massive ingots as a precaution against theft.

The criminal activities of Small and McDonald were destined to end soon after the robbery on Harris and Rhine’s store in the spring of 1876. Briefly, the brigands made nuisances of themselves around Bodie. A dispute over spoils, however, led to a heated dispute which led to
gun play. John Small was not quite as fast on the draw as his partner.

Why did Panamint die? People nowadays think that the silver veins were surface-bound and did not extend to any great depth. This reasoning appears quite cogent; after all, the silver city’s star did rise and set in four short years. A contrary viewpoint, however, was expressed by
Professor O. Loew who, late in 1875, was quoted as saying: “Never have I seen a country where there was a greater probability of true fissure veins than that of Panamint. In the Wyoming and Hemlock mines large bodies of ore will be encountered.” But even as Loew spoke, decay burdened the wind. Editor Harris left Panamint for Darwin in 1875; Doc Bicknell followed soon after. Before Harris packed his wagon for Darwin he advanced his notion why Panamint died—
the lack of road and rail transportation. Harris genuinely felt that a railroad could have saved the city.

Darwin, Ca.

There was another reason why Panamint became an untimely ghost town. Two hard-bitten prospectors, Baldwin and Wilson, discovered two rich mines in the nearby Coso mountains. The two miners told the people of Panamint that they had the two richest mines in the world. Panamint accepted their words and their enthusiasm as gospel. Immediately a great exodus of wagons trailed down Surprise Canyon headed for the promising capital of the Cosos, Darwin. Unquestionably the discovery of these silver mines in the Cosos provided the coup de grace for the already stricken city as Coso mines were “argentiferous” and did not require milling.

The deluge that swept down Surprise Canyon in 1876 was perhaps the final curtain in this historic drama of the old West. Its rushing waters played around empty shacks and deposited layers of heavy silt on little more than dreams. But there was one person enslaved by the charm of the silver city, Jim Bruce. Long after the mines were closed this formidable faro dealer and gunfighter lived a tranquil if uncertain existence in the city he loved.

Panamint flexed feeble muscles of silver again in 1947. On this date Nathan Elliott, movie press agent, established the American Silver Corporation in a last ditch attempt to wrest silver from long dormant Panamint mines. Elliott spun a sumptuous verbal web that entrapped many of the film Capitol’s finest. Aided by Vice President and Comedian Ben Blue, the silver-tongued promoter succeeded in raising $1,000,000. With this money Panamint mines were deepened.
But Elliott’s hopes for a bonanza never materialized. To the wonder and rage of the movie world, the great developer vanished into protective oblivion.

Today Panamint is deserted except for the Thompson sisters who live up Surprise Canyon a few miles north of the old mill. They are old-time residents of the area and their residence, Thompson camp, is a soothing backdrop of green poised against bitter desolation. The Thompson home is encircled by tall trees; a fenced yard secures a well-watered lawn which
always has the appearance of being freshly mowed.’ This is due to the wonderful “automatic mower” owned by these ladies, a dusky well-fed burro.

These soft-spoken daughters of the Mojave own a number of mining claims in the area. From time to time they hire miners to sample ores from neighboring hills or to repair rickety scaffolding. Although, the Thompson sisters run a relaxed operation now, their mining activities
would be greatly accelerated by an increase in the price of silver. You can be assured of this not only from what they say, but also from the silvery sparkle that sometimes dances in their eyes.

from:
Tempest in Silver by Stanley Demes – Desert Magazine – February 1967

Naming Death Valley

In 1849 in the rush to the goldfields of California the Bennett-Arcane party of the Mojave-San Joaquin wagon train decided to try an unknown shortcut and became stranded in what is now known as Death Valley.  Two young men, William L. Manly and John Rogers walked out, across the desert and into the canyons north of Los Angeles.  At a rancho in San Francisquito canyon they managed to get a white horse and a one-eyed mule as well as supplies then they walked back to those who were remaining at the camp.  Once they returned they led the lost party to safety. Following are their observations of the topography of the Mojave and how Manly claimed Death Valley got its name.

While waiting for the women Bennett and Arcane wanted to go out and get a good view of the great snowy mountain I had told them so much about. The best point of view was near our camp, perhaps three or four hundred yards away, and I went with them. This place where we now stood was lower than the mountains either north or south, but were difficult to climb, and gave a good view in almost every direction, and there, on the back bone of the ridge we had a grand outlook, but some parts of it brought back doleful recollections. They said they had traveled in sight of that mountain for months and seen many strange formations, but never one like this, as developed from this point. It looked to be seventy-five miles to its base, and to the north and west there was a succession of snowy peaks that seemed to have no end. Bennett and Arcane said they never before supposed America contained mountains so grand with peaks that so nearly seemed to pierce the sky. Nothing except a bird could ever cross such steep ranges as that one.

West and south it seemed level, and low, dark and barren buttes rose from the plain, but never high enough to carry snow, even at this season of the year. I pointed out to them the route we were to follow, noting the prominent points, and it could be traced for fully one hundred and twenty-five miles from the point on which we stood. This plain, with its barren ranges and buttes is now known as the Mojave Desert. This part of the view they seemed to study over, as if to fix every point and water hole upon their memory. We turned to go to camp, but no one looked back on the country we had come over since we first made out the distant snow peak, now so near us, on November 4th 1849. The only butte in this direction that carried snow was the one where we captured the Indian and where the squashes were found.

The range next east of us across the low valley was barren to look upon as a naked, single rock. There were peaks of various heights and colors, yellow, blue fiery red and nearly black. It looked as if it might sometime have been the center of a mammoth furnace. I believe this range is known as the Coffin’s Mountains. It would be difficult to find earth enough in the whole of it to cover a coffin.

Just as we were ready to leave and return to camp we took off our hats, and then overlooking the scene of so much trial, suffering and death spoke the thought uppermost saying:–“_Good bye Death Valley!”_ then faced away and made our steps toward camp. Even after this in speaking of this long and narrow valley over which we had crossed into its nearly central part, and on the edge of which the lone camp was made, for so many days, it was called Death Valley.

Many accounts have been given to the world as to the origin of the name and by whom it was thus designated but ours were the first visible footsteps, and we the party which named it the saddest and most dreadful name that came to us first from its memories.

from: Wm. L. Manly – Death Valley in ’49 – Chap. X

Death Valley’s Titus Canyon

by Betty J.  Tucker –  Desert Magazine April, 1971
(photos – Walter Feller)

The road and scenery through Titus Canyon in Death Valley produces all the ups and downs of a young love, then steadies out into the young matronly area. Further on, it matures and gains
the stature of sedate old age.

Titus Canyon Road, Death Valley

Titus Canyon Road

That’s a pretty good life span for a mere 25 miles. The only problem is that occasionally heavy rains rip out the road, so be sure and check with the rangers. Trailers cannot be taken on this road and I wouldn’t recommend trucks and campers, although we saw one go through.  At times the high center of the road forces you into some creative driving.We did it in a dune buggy.

The road into Titus Canyon leaves the Beatty Road and crosses the desert between the Bullfrog Hills and the Grapevine Mountains. Then it begins to climb. This road is one way and it is easy to see why. The steep uphill grades and sharp hairpin curves are not conducive to meeting oncoming traffic. There was that thrill of a first young love—the frightening steepness and sheer drop-offs, but still so breathtakingly beautiful that I wasn’t even afraid. The dune buggy has such a short wheelbase it takes the sharpest corners with  ease.

After cresting at Red Pass, elevation 5,250, we dropped down into a beautiful green valley. Here, nestled comfortably in the yellow flowered brittle bush was the ruins of Leadfield.

Leadfield tunnel

He blasted some tunnels and liberally salted them …

This child was the brainchild of C. C. Julian who would’ve sold ice to an Eskimo. He wandered into Titus Canyon with money in mind. He blasted some tunnels and liberally salted them with lead ore he had brought from Tonopah. Then he sat down and drew up some enticing maps of the area. He moved to usually dry and never deep Amargosa River miles from its normal bed.

Leadfield ghost town, Death Valley

Leadfield ghost town

He drew pictures of ships steaming up the river hauling out the bountiful ore from his mines. Then he distributed handbills and lowered Eastern promoters into investing money. Miners flocked in at the scent of a big strike and dug their hopeful holes.  They built a few shacks. Julian was such a promoter he even conned the US government into building a post office here.

Leadfield post office, Death Valley

Leadfield post office

So for six months, August, 1926 to February, 1927, over 300 people lived here and tried to strike it rich. They dug and lost.

What remains of this fiasco is rather amazing to behold. It most certainly looks like the ghost of a prosperous mine.  The false front, cream-colored, corrugated tin post office is still in good shape. There is a built-in wooden desk in some small shelves on the walls. Of the narrow trail there are two more lime green corrugated tin buildings.

Blacksmith's shop - the wooden block for his anvil and coke bin

Blacksmith’s shop – the wooden block for his anvil and coke bin

Near it is the blacksmith’s building. The wooden block that held his anvil is there as is the bin full of coke.  Both of these buildings are lined with asbestos. There are several small holes where the miners tried to find the promised ore, plus a couple of rather large shafts.

2 1/2 miles  below Leadfield is Klare Spring, the major water supply for the town. Miners stood there in frequent baths here and hold water back to camp. Beside this spring you will find Indian petroglyphs.

Klare Springs, Titus Canyon Road

Klare Springs

We sat on a couple of sun warmed rocks and had a snack. The water trickled by any couple of ravens performed a spectacular air ballet for us.  It was an easy to remember that Titus Canyon got its name through a tragedy.

Titus took half of the stock and went to look for more water.

In 1907, Morris Titus, a young mining engineer, and two of his friends, Mullan and Weller, left Rhyolite intending to cross Death Valley and do some prospecting in the Panamints.  They found the waterhole dry that they had hoped to use. They had only 20 gallons of water for themselves, 19 burros and two horses. Eventually they found a hole where they could get a cup bowl every four hours. While Mullan and Weller waited, Titus took half of the stock and went to look for more water. He never came back. Next day Weller took the remaining stock and set out to look for Titus. He, too, disappeared. Mullan  was found a month later and taken to Rhyolite, more dead than alive. As Titus was known to carry large quantities of gold with him, his family instigated an  extensive search.  No sign was ever found of him. Some thought he might have broken through a salt crust and gone into the mire below. Whatever happened, he has a most beautiful monument in having this particular canyon named after him.

~ end ~

Also see:

Leadfield Ghost Town

History of Leadfield

Stovepipe Wells Area Map

Death Valley Ghost Towns

But Where Was God?

from: Loafing Along Death Valley Trails
A Personal Narrative of People and Places by William Caruthers

For years, on the edge of the road near Tule Hole, a rough slab marked Jim Dayton’s grave, on which were piled the bleached bones of Dayton’s horses. On the board were these words: “Jas. Dayton. Died 1898.”

Jim Dayton's grave, Death Valley

” … the date 1898, burned into the board with a redhot poker shows clearly.”

The accuracy of the date of Dayton’s death as given on the bronze plaque on the monument and on the marker which it replaced, has been challenged. The author of this book wrote the epitaph for the monument and the date on it is the date which was on the original marker—an old ironing board that had belonged to Pauline Gower. In a snapshot made by the writer, the date 1898, burned into the board with a redhot poker shows clearly.

The two men who know most about the matter, Wash Cahill and Frank Hilton, whom he sent to find Dayton or his body, both declared the date on the marker correct.

The late Ed Stiles brought Dayton into Death Valley. Stiles was working for Jim McLaughlin (Stiles called him McGlothlin), who operated a freighting service with headquarters at Bishop. McLaughlin ordered Stiles to take a 12 mule team and report to the Eagle Borax Works in Death Valley. “I can’t give you any directions. You’ll just have to find the place.” Stiles had never been in Death Valley nor could he find anyone who had. It was like telling a man to start across the ocean and find a ship named Sally.

At Bishop Creek in Owens Valley Stiles decided he needed a helper. There he found but one person willing to go—a youngster barely out of his teens—Jim Dayton.

Dayton remained in Death Valley and somewhat late in life, on one of his trips out, romance entered. After painting an intriguing picture of the lotus life a girl would find at Furnace Creek, he asked the lady to share it with him. She promptly accepted.

Dayton/Harris Gravesite

A few months later, the bride suggested that a trip out would make her love the lotus life even more and so in the summer of 1898 she tearfully departed. Soon she wrote Jim in effect that it hadn’t turned out as she had hoped. Instead, she had become reconciled to shade trees, green lawns, neighbors, and places to go and if he wanted to live with her again he would just have to abandon the Death Valley paradise.

Dayton loaded his wagon with all his possessions, called his dog and started for Daggett.

Wash Cahill, who was to become vice-president of the borax company, was then working at its Daggett office. Cahill received from Dayton a letter which he saw from the date inside and the postmark on the envelope, had been held somewhere for at least two weeks before it was mailed.

The letter contained Dayton’s resignation and explained why Dayton was leaving. He had left a reliable man in temporary charge and was bringing his household goods; also two horses which had been borrowed at Daggett.

Knowing that Dayton should have arrived in Daggett at least a week before the actual arrival of the letter, Cahill was alarmed and dispatched Frank Hilton, a teamster and handy man, and Dolph Lavares to see what had happened.

On the roadside at Tule Hole they found Dayton’s body, his dog patiently guarding it. Apparently Dayton had become ill, stopped to rest. “Maybe the sun beat him down. Maybe his ticker jammed,” said Shorty Harris, “but the horses were fouled in the harness and were standing up dead.”

There could be no flowers for Jim Dayton nor peal of organ. So they went to his wagon, loosened the shovel lashed to the coupling pole. They dug a hole beside the road, rolled Jim Dayton’s body into it.

The widow later settled in a comfortable house in town with neighbors close at hand. There she was trapped by fire. While the flames were consuming the building a man ran up. Someone said, “She’s in that upper room.” The brave and daring fellow tore his way through the crowd, leaped through the window into a room red with flames and dragged her out, her clothing still afire. He laid her down, beat out the flames, but she succumbed.

A multitude applauded the hero. A little later over in Nevada another multitude lynched him. Between heroism and depravity—what?

Although Tule Hole has long been a landmark of Death Valley, few know its story and this I believe to be its first publication.

One day while resting his team, Stiles noticed a patch of tules growing a short distance off the road and taking a shovel he walked over, started digging a hole on what he thought was a million to one chance of finding water, and thus reduce the load that had to be hauled for use between springs. “I hadn’t dug a foot,” he told me “before I struck water. I dug a ditch to let it run off and after it cleared I drank some, found it good and enlarged the hole.”

He went on to Daggett with his load. Repairs to his wagon train required a week and by the time he returned five weeks had elapsed. “I stopped the team opposite the tules, got out and started over to look at the hole I’d dug. When I got within a few yards three or four naked squaw hags scurried into the brush. I stopped and looked away toward the mountains to give ’em a chance to hide. Then I noticed two Indian bucks, each leading a riderless horse, headed for the Panamints. Then I knew what had happened.”

Ed Stiles was a desert man and knew his Indians. Somewhere up in a Panamint canyon the chief had called a powwow and when it was over the head men had gone from one wickiup to another and looked over all the toothless old crones who no longer were able to serve, yet consumed and were in the way. Then they had brought the horses and with two strong bucks to guard them, they had ridden down the canyon and out across the desert to the water hole. There the crones had slid to the ground. The bucks had dropped a sack of piñon nuts. Of course, the toothless hags could not crunch the nuts and even if they could, the nuts would not last long. Then they would have to crawl off into the scrawny brush and grabble for herbs or slap at grasshoppers, but these are quicker than palsied hands and in a little while the sun would beat them down.

The rest was up to God.

The distinction of driving the first 20 mule team has always been a matter of controversy. Over a nation-wide hook-up, the National Broadcasting Co. once presented a playlet based upon these conflicting claims. A few days afterward, at the annual Death Valley picnic held at Wilmington, John Delameter, a speaker, announced that he’d made considerable research and was prepared to name the person actually entitled to that honor. The crowd, including three claimants of the title, moved closer, their ears cupped in eager attention as Delameter began to speak. One of the claimants nudged my arm with a confident smile, whispered, “Now you’ll know….” A few feet away his rivals, their pale eyes fixed on the speaker, hunched forward to miss no word.

Mr. Delameter said: “There were several wagons of 16 mules and who drove the first of these, I do not know, but I do know who drove the first 20 mule team.”

20 Mule Team

20 Mule Team

Covertly and with gleams of triumph, the claimants eyed each other as Delameter paused to turn a page of his manuscript. Then with a loud voice he said: “I drove it myself!”

May God have mercy on his soul.

A few days later I rang the doorbell at the ranch house of Ed Stiles, almost surrounded by the city of San Bernardino. As no one answered, I walked to the rear, and across a field of green alfalfa saw a man pitching hay in a temperature of 120 degrees. It was Stiles who in 1876 was teaming in Bodie—toughest of the gold towns.

I sat down in the shade of his hay. He stood in the sun. I said, “Mr. Stiles, do you know who drove the first 20 mule team in Death Valley?”

He gave me a kind of et-tu, Brute look and smiled.

Francis Marion "Borax" Smith

Francis Marion “Borax” Smith

“In the fall of 1882 I was driving a 12 mule team from the Eagle Borax Works to Daggett. I met a man on a buckboard who asked if the team was for sale. I told him to write Mr. McLaughlin. It took 15 days to make the round trip and when I got back I met the same man. He showed me a bill of sale for the team and hired me to drive it. He had an eight mule team and a new red wagon, driven by a fellow named Webster. The man in the buckboard was Borax Smith.

“Al Maynard, foreman for Smith and Coleman, was at work grubbing out mesquite to plant alfalfa on what is now Furnace Creek Ranch. Maynard told me to take the tongue out of the new wagon and put a trailer tongue in it. ‘In the morning,’ he said, ‘hitch it to your wagon. Put a water wagon behind your trailer, hook up those eight mules with your team and go to Daggett.’

“That was the first time that a 20 mule team was driven out of Death Valley. Webster was supposed to swamp for me. But when he saw his new red wagon and mules hitched up with my outfit, he walked into the office and quit his job.”

~ the end ~

They Never Locked the Door of the Jail at Ballarat

By LeROY and MARGARET BALES
Desert Magazine – May 1941

The bonanza days in the Death Valley region have long since passed, but grizzled prospectors are still picking away in the hills, confident that rich ledges of gold and silver are yet to be uncovered. Ballarat was one of the boom towns in that area in the late ‘nineties. Only crumbling walls and a few weathered shacks remain on the treeless landscape to mark the site of the town today but some of the veteran mining men still spend their winters there—and Ballarat will never die while these old-timers remain to recall tales of the past and keep their faith in the new strikes yet to be made.

Ballarat jail

This is the double-boarded jail of old Ballarat, where the doors were never locked.

A ghost town with living inhabitants–that’s Ballarat. Standing on a treeless desert horizon at the foot of California’s Panamint mountains, its roofs are mostly gone, its walls are crumbling away—but in a few of the ancient shacks still dwell men “who knew the town when.”

They are a restless lot, these surviving desert rats of the old days—here today, tomorrow somewhere in the mountains 20 miles away. They come and go like the ghosts of the gala, golden era in which the town sprung into being.

Panamint Tom, the killer Indian; Shorty Harris, the most successful—and the most unlucky—prospector who ever packed a burro; French Pete, and a hundred others—famous and infamous—had a part in the boom day era. And one other, whose name on the desert is synonymous with Ballarat—Chris Wicht—-0l’ Chris, who ran the saloon, kept it open in fact long after the town itself had died.

For four years after the boom’s collapse Chris “fed and drank” the stranded prospectors “because I couldn’t help but feel I owed them something. They always left their dollars with me when they had ’em.”

Chris Wicht’s Headquarters Saloon, Ballarat.

“I “Kept figuring the town would come back,” he explains, “but when I’d gone broke too and no rich strikes made I knew I’d finally have to fold up.”

He doesn’t think he was  generous. “I had it. They needed it. They paid me when they could,” is the way he puts it. Maybe that’s why, whenever you mention Ballarat in a desert mining town, someone remembers Ol’ Chris.

We were 200 miles away, having coffee at Big Rock springs on the edge of the Mojave, when we first heard about him. It was in October, 1940. We were on a hunt for ghost towns in the desert.

Mrs. Howard Bland, an attractive woman and an old-timer in the Mojave, told us about Ballarat and Chris as she served us coffee in the combination grocery store and lunch counter. There were interruptions while she waited on other customers, but we were in no hurry, and as time permitted she came and sat at the table with us and related her experiences in the old mining camp,

“I’ll never forget Ballarat,” she said, “any more than I will forget Chris Wicht and a certain postal inspector who paid the camp an official visit long after its gold had been worked out.”

Chris Wicht

Chris Wicht went broke at Ballarat grubstaking the prospectors—and now he operates a neat little cabin resort in Surprise canyon.

Ballarat’s heyday was between 1895 to 1907. Then it was a bustling supply center for Panamint valley prospectors—a link between the borax mines in Death Valley and the outside world. It was 15 years later that Mrs. Bland first saw the old camp. Then it was just a cluster of buildings in a beautiful barren setting. There was a hotel that nobody used, a closed store, a post office where mail never came or went. Ol’ Chris and his saloon were all that was left.

The government had found out that it had a post office that wasn’t being used and a postal inspection must be made. The postmaster who had also been the grocer, had just drifted off after the others. The postal department sent an elderly dignified Bostonian, whose habits of living had made him hopelessly useless according to desert dwellers’ way of thinking. The train dropped him at Randsburg, and since the bus driver was away, Mrs. Bland, whose husband was then the Randsburg grocer, was elected to take him to Ballarat in her Model T Ford.

“It was a cold, threatening day,” she related. “The road over Slate range was just two deep ruts with a high ridge between. There were hairpin turns around cliffs that dropped 600 feet. Buzzards circling overhead.

“The postal inspector was nervous. All he could see were mountains of rock, a few buzzards in the sky, and way below a wide barren flat. You could almost hear him shudder. I pointed out Ballarat – just a speck at the foot of the range on the other side of the valley. He didn’t see how people and animals could live there. What, for instance, could those big birds find to eat?

“Any old carcass is a feast to a buzzard.”

“I tried to wither him with a look. ‘Any old carcass is a feast to a buzzard,’ I said, and that stopped all small talk till we got to Ballarat.

“It was late afternoon, but the sky was already dark because of the storm clouds. Chris Wicht came out and met us. I liked him right away. He helped us open the old store, and the inspector got out the combination to the safe and started to work. He was pretty sure of himself at first, but after about 10 tries he became a little upset. So was I. I didn’t like the looks of that storm coming on.

‘Why don’t you give it a good cussing?’ Ol’ Chris suggested. ‘That’s the way the grocer used to make it work.’ The inspector wouldn’t even look at him. But he got up and handed me the figures. He said he guessed he didn’t have the right touch.

“Well, I tried it six or seven times I guess—until I was ready to try a charge of dynamite if nothing else would work.  Chris was still standing there with that funny little smile of his, so I said, ‘How about you, Chris? Can you remember the words the grocer used?’

“Chris had never herded a burro, but he did all right. But even that didn’t work this time.

“I was ready to start for home. But not the inspector. He took back his figures and started in all over again. Chris watched him awhile and shook his head. ‘I think he needs a drink,’ he said.

“I sat down and chewed my fingernails. Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer. I asked him to look outside and see the storm coming up. And I told him about the water spout that hit Surprise canyon a couple of years before and cut a 20-foot gully where there used to be a road. I tried to make him understand that it doesn’t just rain in this country—it pours. And that even a Model T didn’t have a chance, and the road across the dry lake would be just as slippery as a gravy dish and we had 65 miles of rough desert road before we got back to Randsburg. I must have made an impression finally because he said he guessed we might as well go.

“I helped him into the Ford and we jogged out of town over the long washboard of road that crossed the valley. I couldn’t tell whether the inspector’s teeth or the Ford chattered loudest. I was holding the throttle open as far as was safe. But I needn’t have bothered. The car stopped just before we got to the foot of the range. Ballarat was at least 10 miles behind us.

“I checked the gas, the plugs, even used my nail file on the points. It wasn’t any use.

“The inspector seemed to have lost his voice, but he managed to whisper shakily, ‘You don’t suppose we’ll be stranded here?’

” ‘Unless you know more about the insides of this thing than I do, one of us will,’ I assured him.

“He slipped down in the seat. ‘I never drove a car in my life,’ he said.

“I asked him how he was at walking. He just looked out into the darkness and shook his head. I wondered what the post office department was thinking of—sending a city man to Ballarat.

“There were two chocolate bars in the car pocket. I gave him both of them and warned him to stay put because of the jackals in the hills. When I left him he was shaking all over and all he could say was, ‘Jackals!’

“Well, it was a rough hike, but Ol’ Chris welcomed me at the end of it with a warm fire and a cozy chair. I suspect he enjoyed the inspector’s predicament. He said he’d get a burro out to him. He sent an old prospector and two burros. They returned hours later with a storm-washed inspector whose pince-nez dangled sadly on its chain.

Ballarat ghost town

“The next day a man from the Tanks on the other side of the range came over and fixed the Ford. The road had jolted loose all the ignition screws. I took the inspector back to Randsburg, and that was the last I ever saw of him. I don’t believe he ever visited our desert again. Ol’ Chris? They tell me he’s still somewhere around Ballarat. Back up in the hills with his own claim. Look him up. He’s one in a million.”

After hearing her story we wouldn’t have missed seeing Ballarat. Going over the Slate range we knew that except for grading, the road couldn’t have been changed much. There were the same sheer cliffs, the same hairpin turns, even a buzzard circling overhead, with Ballarat a little group of patched up buildings at the end of a ribbon of road across an alkaline flat.

Ballarat ghost town

Ballarat’s heyday was between 1895 and 1907—and this is about all that is left of the old mining camp today. (c. 1941)

Half a dozen men, a woman and her son, made their homes in the old structures and managed to find a living in the jagged forbidding range of the Panamints. Even the old double-boarded jail had become somebody’s home. It didn’t look as though it had ever been very strong.

“Didn’t have to be,” said Billy Heider, one of the old-timers. “Nobody ever in it but drunks. Didn’t even bother to lock the door on them. What was the use? Why should Ballarat feed ’em when all they needed was to sober up so’s they could go back out and spend their own money again?”

“But weren’t there bandits and outlaws in the early days? Wasn’t it true that Panamint City had been founded by a couple of stage coach robbers who accidentally discovered the rich veins of silver there way back in ’73—that one of them lived to a ripe old age in Ballarat?”

“Maybe so,” he agreed. “You hear a lot of things. But we don’t ask too many questions about a man out here—just so long as he’s straight with us. Sure, we had our share of outlaws—every mining town does. Had our share of shootings too. But nobody ever got hurt. Generally just playing around, happy and blowing off steam.”

Most of Ballarat’s prospectors pull out when summer comes. The men all have cars of one sort or another, and the High Sierra isn’t too far away. Some of them go up there and fish the summer away. Others have destinations unknown and never mentioned. Like Slim Ferge—Seldom Seen Slim. If the winter was lucky, he just disappears. When he’s broke he comes back—goes into the Panamints a few ore samples—sets up beside the highway in the Mojave, sells the samples to tourists for a new stake and starts all over again.

Most of the prospectors are hunting for gold. The Panamints have low-grade silver, but mining it is not profitable according to Chris Wicht, who has a whole canyon of it and ought to know. Some of the newcomers have found scheelite, which is composed of calcium and tungsten oxides. Tungsten is an important factor in the manufacture of armaments, and with an eye to the future and war industries booming, they know the supply can never equal the demand. The essential part of their equipment” is a violet ray lamp with batteries strapped to their chests. The light picks out the ore in little glowing patches.

But even the scheelite prospectors do not stay in Ballarat during the summer. The only one who is sure to be around is Ol’ Chris Wicht. They told us where to find him—a group of cottonwoods halfway up Surprise canyon where he has a silver claim and a bunch of cabins—”runs a sort of resort.”

That was news! A resort in Surprise canyon.

“How are the roads?” we asked.

“Oh, fine,” Slim assured us. “No bad roads around here. Don’t find bad roads till you get down around Granite wells.”

We didn’t go down around Granite wells, but we decided, bumping along the road up Surprise canyon, that Seldom Seen Slim had a real sense of humor. We even wondered if it wouldn’t be a nice idea to write Henry Ford a letter, providing there was anything left of our car to write about. But, at that, it might not have been so bad if we could have forgotten that the deep ravine beside the narrow ledge of road was where another road used to be and a waterspout took it out. Chris’s place is a little paradise in the Panamints after you get to it.

Map pf Panamint Mtns. & Valley area - Ballarat

Map of Panamint Mtns. & Valley area – Ballarat – 1913

He has a group of neat furnished cabins and running water the year round. He’s even built a swimming pool where customers can “dehydrate” when the weather gets really hot and, for ultra modern convenience, he’s put in his own electric light plant. Crude, maybe, but it works. He had to use what he could find—a water wheel from an old mine and an old Dodge generator.

Chris thinks there isn’t any place like the Panamints. He doesn’t work his claim much. “If it was gold,” he says, “it would be all right. But by the time I’ve loaded silver onto the trucks, hauled it in and had it smelted, there isn’t anything left.” He still has faith in Ballarat. “There’s plenty of gold left yet in the Panamints.

It runs in ledges in the mountains to the south, lots of good pockets if you can find them. Trouble is, you have to be like a mountain goat to get around. And these automobiles don’t help any. In the old days, with a burro, a prospector could go almost anyplace. Now he either has to hunt around the edges, or leave the car behind and walk. Besides, who ever got any satisfaction out of trying new words on automobiles?”

“Sure,” he said, ” I still think Ballarat will come back some day.” He swept his arm broadly. “The reason may lay two hundred feet deep — but it’s there, hid someplace in the Panamints.”

-end-

 

Indian George

He Witnessed the Death Valley Tragedy of ’49

By J.C. Boyles – Desert Magazine — Feb – 1940

When the ill-fated Jayhawker and Bennett-Manly parties trekked across Death Valley in 1849 the white gold-seekers were in mortal fear of the Indians who lurked along the trail. Today, 90 years later, Indian George Hansen, venerable patriarch of the Death Valley Shoshones who as a boy witnessed the tragedy of the Americans, discloses that the Indians also were afraid of the whites. “The hearts of our people were heavy for these strange people,” he said, “but we were afraid. They had things that made fire with a loud noise and we had never seen these before.” Indian George is nearly 100 years old today, but he has a vivid recollection of the incidents of his long life on the Death Valley desert. The accompanying interview was given to a man who has for many years been an intimate friend and advisor to the aged Indian.

Panamint Mountains, Panamint Valley - Mojave Desert

Panamint Mountains, Panamint Valley

Many wheels spin through the Panamint range these days, rolling along to Death Valley with well-dressed and well-fed sightseers bound for de luxe winter resorts which draw visitors from all over the world. The sleek automobiles and their big rubber tires attract only a casual glance now from Indian George. But he remembers when he and his people of the Shoshone tribe nearly 90 years ago saw for the first time a wheel in Death Valley. The wheels were creaking, iron-rimmed wagonwheels of the ill-fated ragged Jayhawker party on their tragic way to California. It was around Christmas time in 1849. Indian George was a small boy then. He was born at Surveyor Well in Death Valley about the year 1841. And the first white man he saw on the desert so long ago in a world he had known as inhabited exclusively by Indians terrified him. He ran from the sight and thus won his tribal name, Bah-vanda-sava-nu-kee (Boy-Who-Runs-Away).

“Boy-Who-Runs-Away” is a venerable patriarch of his people now. Nearing his 100th birthday, he has the dignity of great age. His head is as white as the winter snow on Telescope peak high above his home in Panamint valley. Despite the burden of his years, he retains a delightful sense of humor that makes him chuckle at recollection of the incident that gave him his name. And his memory goes back clearly to the days before the white man invaded his world.

Indian George

Indian George

On a late October day we sat in the shade of the cottonwoods at the old Indian ranch where he has made his home for the past 70 years. There he lives with his daughter Isabel, granddaughter Molly and Old Woman, his sister-in-law. At nearby Darwin he has many great-grandchildren.

Bah-vanda-sava-nu-kee’s home place is watered by a stream from the melting snows of the Panamints. The pungent smell of goats permeated the air.

Leaves of the cottonwoods had begun to turn yellow with the first cold of autumn, dust devils swirled over the mud flats, a blue haze lay over the mountains. Lean hungry mongrel dogs sniffed at my feet, Old Woman silently shelled pinon nuts, the silence broken only by the cracking of hulls.

Around us was the region called home by a small band of Shoshones for many generations before the white man’s coming. Coville called the tribe the Panamint Indians, most southerly of the Shoshonean family whose homes were on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada and northward nearly to Canada. In Death Valley and along its border the desert band lived widely separated, in wickiups close to springs or water holes, utilizing in a barren, forbidding territory, every edible shrub and root, every living thing that walked and crawled.

Honey bean mesquite

Honey bean mesquite

The women gathered mesquite beans, wild grass seed and pinon nuts which were winnowed and ground into coarse flour. The men snared rabbits and quail and hunted the wily bighorn sheep in the nearby mountains.

Bah-vanda-sava-nu-kee has seen here in his lifetime a development of human history equivalent to man’s progress through all that long, long stretch of time since the first wheel astonished travelers afoot. During the past 20 years I have studied the story of his life.
While Old Woman shelled the pinons,
I said:
“Grandfather, you have seen many winters and the wisdom of an old man is good. That is why I have come to you to hear of the old times.”

After a long silence, Bah-vanda-savanu-kee spoke:
“My son, you are Kwe-Yah, the Eagle.’ I have known your father for many, many years. You have been to the white man’s school and have learned his ways, many of which are good, and you
understand our people and many of our ways are good.

“I am growing old, my limbs creak, my eyes are dim with age. To you, my son, I can talk plain and you will understand without me saying foolish things like when I talk to white people.”

There was another interval of silence, and then he continued, speaking slowly and deliberately. As nearly as I can do so, I use his own words:

Timbisha Shoshone village, Furnace Creek c.1940

Timbisha Shoshone village, Furnace Creek c.1940 – Burton Frasher photo

Long ago I was born in a camp of mesquite in To-me-sha, they call that place Death Valley. It was at Surveyor Well. From the earliest time I can remember we would move away in the summer to the high cool country among the juniper and pinon trees. There we would stay until the pinon nut harvest was over, returning to the valley when the snow came.

When there was plenty of meat every one was happy, even E-shev-ipe the coyote and Wo-te-ah the fox smelled the meat cooking over the hot stones and came for their share. When every one had eaten all he could hold, there was story telling and dances. Sometimes we played the hand game and sang the gamblers song all night long. Those were happy days with our people.

Shoshone woman passes on the functional art of basketmaking

Shoshone woman passes on the functional art of basketmaking – c1934.

Cold winter evenings we sat about the camp fire, in the shelter of the mesquite, the old men told stories of days that were gone. Our women worked at basketmaking, some baskets were made for gathering seeds and pinon nuts, others were for beauty. It was a gift of our women to make good baskets.

Old Kaw “the crow” was the best story teller, he told the stories over and over,  so that the boys would know and remember, and he went away back the life time of many old men. He told of the Mojaves and how our young men drove them from the valley. They came in from the south to steal our pinon-nut caches and carry off our women. We did not like these people, we were high above them. Always after a fight they built a big fire and burned their dead ones. Long after this when I was a young man, that is, after the white man came, the Mojaves came back and killed white men and made much trouble. This time we helped the white men who were good to us.  White men gave us guns and went with us on the war path. We found the Mojaves near that place Mojave where the railroad is now and killed many and brought back the white man’s stock. After that we never saw the Mojaves again. They were not our kind of people.

My father Inyo (Place-of-the-Spirit) was head man at that time, what the white man calls a chief. When our people had trouble they came to him, and he he listened, and what he said to them was right. In my father’s time I heard of the animal the white man calls buffalo but we never saw that animal. We traded willow baskets, salt and arrow heads for the buffalo hide from other Indians who came down from the north. Our people used this hide for moccasins and made warm blankets from rabbit skins cut in strips and twisted them sewed together. This way the hair was on both sides and very warm in winter time.

chuckwalla lizard

Chuckwalla lizard

When I was a little boy I wandered over the desert far from home, always looking for something to eat. I learned how to snare rabbits and quail and hunt Cuc-wata the chuckawalla. Cuc-wata was quick, he would run and hide in the crack of big stones and blow himself full of wind, so he could not be pulled out. For this hunting I carried a sharp stick, I catch hold of his tail and punch a hole to leave out the wind, then I could easy pull him out. This meat was very good.

When I found the track of To-koo-vichite the wild cat, I would trail him to his den, and later tell my father who would smoke him out and kill. This meat was very sweet.

Sometimes when I would start out to hunt, Woo-nada-gum-bechie (Dust Devil) would cross my path, then I would always return, for that was a bad sign. The old men say that is the ghost of one who died and maybe that is so.

When Oot-sup-poot, the meadow lark, came back that was a good sign that cold wind had gone. Then I could travel far with my bow and arrow and some times bring home big birds that were going north. I was becoming a big hunter and brought much meat to my mother’s wickiup. I learned to track and use the bow and arrow when very young. My father made the arrows from a hollow reed that grows in the canyons. You can find that kind of reed over there in the canyon where this water comes from. We placed a sharp stick about as long as a hand in the end, this stick we burned in a fire and scraped with a stone to a hard sharp point. Some arrows we pointed with black stone (obsidian) that came from the Coso hills. That time there was many Wa-soo-pi (big horn sheep) on Sheep mountain and all over the Ky-eguta (Panamint range). No Indian boy today could hunt them like we did with bow and arrow. Some time I trailed Wasoo-pi for three, four days. When I see him lay down, I crawl close slow, slow, like a fox, from rock to rock, always with the wind in my fact;, when he would raise his head to smell the wind, I lay flat without a move. When I get close, I raise up slow, slow, and drive the arrow into meat.

When I was about as high as that wagon wheel, (pointing to an old wheel leaning against the corral fence) may be about ten or 12 summers, a big thing happened in my life.

Telescope Peak, Panamint Range, Death Valley

Telescope Peak

This I must remember well, and in the telling, tell it straight. Snow was on See-umba mountain (Telescope peak) when this happened.

A strange tribe of other people (the Jayhawker-Manly- Bennett Party 1849) came down Furnace Creek, some walking, slow like sick people and some in big wagons, pulled by cows. They stopped there by water and rested. When other Indians see them, they run away and tell all other Indians at other camps.

Our people were afraid of this strange people. They were not our kind and these cows my people had never seen before.

Never had they seen wagons or wheels or any of the things these people had, the cows were spotted and bigger than the biggest mountain sheep, with long tails and big horns. They moved slow and cried in a long voice like they were sick for grass and water.

Some of these people moved down the valley, some moved up, and they stopped at Salt creek crossing. Them that moved down the valley stopped where Indian Tom Wilson has ranch at Bennett’s well.

When it came night, we crawled close, slow like when trailing sheep. We saw many men around a big fire. They killed cows and burned the wagons and made a big council talk in loud voices like squaws when mad. Some fall down sick when they eat the skinny cows. By and by they went away, up that way where Stove Pipe hotel is now, they walk very slow, strung out like sheep, some men help other men that are sick. One man, he can go no more, he lay down by a big rock, that night he went to his fathers. As they go, they drop things all along the trail, maybe they are worthless things, or too heavy to carry.

After they go we went to that place at Salt creek and found many things that they left there. Because some died, we did not touch those things. When they burned the wagons some parts did not burn, that was iron, and we did not understand this.

Those people who went down the valley to Bennett’s Well stayed there a long time. They had women and children. By and by they went away, all go over Panamints and we never see them again.  The hearts of our people were heavy for these strange people, but we were afraid, they had things that made fire with a loud noise and we had never seen these before.

Aerial photo looking over Furnace creek, into southern Death Valley

Aerial photo looking over Furnace creek, into southern Death Valley – c1938

After this happened we were afraid  more of the strange ones would come. We watched Furnace creek for a long time, but no more come.

May be about three or four summers after this, I was on the trail with my father in Emigrant canyon, when we see man tracks that was not made with moccasins, my father, he say: “Look, not made by Shoshone.”

We followed these tracks and when we come around by big rock we saw a white man there, very close. When we see him we stop quick, I run. away, may be that is why they call me “Boy-Who-Runs-Away.”

This white man made peace sign to my father and give him a shirt, when I see that, I come back. That place was near Emigrant spring.

I think that white man was scared as much as we were. He talked in a strange tongue and made signs with his hands. He was not white, he was same color as a saddle and because of this color I thought he looked like a sick Indian, he had long hair on his face, not like our people.

After this meeting from time to time other white men come into our country. They were rock-breakers looking for the yellow-iron. Mostly they come in pairs without their women, this we thought was strange for it is not a custom of our people to go that way. There were strange stories coming to us of many white people, in the valley of the river (Owens valley) by the high mountains west of here that made war on our people and killed many. Hearing this we were afraid there would be trouble.

(The old man shifted his seat to throw a stick at a yelping dog)

By this time I was married and living not far from Wild Rose spring, and again a big thing happened in my life. This time many white men with Mexicans and Chinese came to the Panamints and all go up that way in what the white man calls Surprise canyon. They built many houses and they all stop there.

I did not know there were so many people and so many different kinds, they brought horses, mules, burros and cows. They called that place Panamint City.

They made roads all over the desert to that place where they all lived. You can see the road now in Surprise canyon, that was a long time ago. I think most of those people have gone to their fathers.

These white men all carried guns and some times they fight among themselves.

At the time I worked with Hungry Bill, my brother-in-law, for a Mexican packer, cutting and packing pinon timber for the mines. He had many burros, these were the first we ever saw. (The old man laughed to himself). It was not long before we had burros of our own. Hungry Bill was good at finding things that were lost and I think some of those burros were not “lost.”

Learns Mule Skinner’s Language

First I learned to speak a little Mexican, it was easier to learn, then I learned a little American, at first only the words the mule skinners called the mules when they were mad.

Later I learned to prospect and find the metal those white people wanted so badly. I did very good but never received anything but grub and promises from those people. One man he gave me a check, when I showed it to another white man he laughed. May be that was a
white man’s joke. One white man I packed for, his name was George. We prospect all over the Ky-e-gutas. When we go out I tell him, “You stay back of me, this is my country,” when we comeback to Panamint City where they all live, I tell him, “Now, you go first, this is your country.”

Lots of white men have fun, they say, “Hello George, he your son?” After that every one called me George, that’s how I got that name.

Another man who was a “government man” gave me that name “Hansen,” he said I must have a name for the books, at Washington so Uncle Sam would know me. (The old man laughed). I
don’t know this Uncle Sam, but I guess he is all right, for when my son Mike or daughter Isabel is sick he sends a medicine man from the agency.

Too Many Beans for Bill

Panamint City

Panamint City

“Hungry Bill” he got his name from the white people at Panamint City. He was always hungry like a coyote, and a pretty bad Indian. I guess the government man did not give him another name because he was not much good, may be Uncle Sam didn’t want him on the books.
One white man at Stone Corral put some medicine in beans. When Hungry Bill eat all he could hold, he got sick. After that he never liked beans any more. About that: time they made another place at Kow-wah and called that place Ballarat. When they come in from outside
they stop there on way to Panamint City. Pretty soon some horse soldiers come and stopped at that place, the chief of those soldiers had a Ka-naka (Negro) who worked for him. When I first saw that black man I thought he was a white man burned black.

Hungry Bill, he was smart Indian. One time he made camp by the road, two white men come along, they have guns, when they see Hungry Bill they shoot at ground, they say “Dance, Injun,
dance.” Hungry Bill he did that, he dance close by sage brush by his gun, when white men make a big laugh, quick, Hungry Bill he pick up his gun, point at white men, he say “Now you dance same me.” This time Hungry Bill had a big joke on white men.

Main Street - Skidoo ghost town site

Main Street – Skidoo ghost town site

After all those people go away from Panamint City they leave many things, that is where I got many things you see about this ranch. One man he brought those stage wagons and he say: “George, I leave them here with you, some day I come back and get them.” He never came back, that was a long time ago.

Long time after they all go away, more white men come, this time to Sheep mountain. They call that place Skidoo. Me and my cousin Shoshone Johnnie we packed wood and timber to that place. After they have a big fight, Joe Simpson he shoot Jim Arnold, other white men
hang Joe Simpson by his neck, after that we stayed away. One white man he give to my daughter Isabel a picture of Simpson hanging by his neck. That was not good, maybe Simpson was drunk when he shot Arnold. It’s bad way to die, man’s spirit cannot get out when he dies with rope around the neck.

In this telling I must not: forget my friend John Searles.

John Searles

John Searles

Across the mountains to the south of here there is a dry white lake, where in the old days our people went for salt. There is a town there now and a big mill. They call that place Trona. I go
there often, and have many friends at that place. When I go there for grub, every one say “Hello George, how are you?” With my father and Hungry Bill we went there for salt long ago, that is where I met this man. He had a camp and horse corral by the lake. When we saw this, we stayed away. That night Searles he came to our camp and made signs for work.

My father and I worked there a long time, we liked the Chinamen, they were little bit like our people. Some white man told to me “Chinaman and Injun all same.” May be so, but I do not believe that.

When we went away, Searles he said: “George, you are always welcome and any time you stop here, China boy will feed you, but not Hungry Bill, you tell him to stay away.”

“Take Mule Home, Eat ’em”

Then he say: “Come here,” and he showed me old mule in the corral, he said: “You taken home, make jerky, plenty good meat. You no keep him, you eat, sabe?” We did this, for in the old days any kind of mea: was good. John Searles was a good man and known to our people as “Bear Fighter.” When he was a young man he had a big fight with a bear in Tehachapi mountains, that is how he got that name:. He had big scar on neck from that fight, when he talk to me he hold his head this way (the old man bent his head slightly to the left shoulder).

Many times after that I thought of John Searles and the good meat we eat at his
camp. Some people say he killed Indians, but that is not true.

That time Hungry Bill would go away for a long time south of Mojave, when he come back, he always bring horses and mules, then all the Indians would have plenty meat. This was not good and caused lots of trouble- with the white men. I think that is why Searles told him to stay away.

The lean dogs sniffed the air and ran off barking. It was Molly, granddaughter of Bah-vanda-sava-nu-kee bringing in the goat herd to the shelter of the corral for the night.

Old Woman threw a stick on the dying fire, the flames lit up the old Indian’s face, “My son, the few thing I have told you are but the flutter of a crow’s wing in my life. Soon I will go to the land of my fathers along with all these other people I have told you about.’

-end-

Burying John Lemoigne

John Lemoigne Arrives in Death Valley

The stark, simple beauty of Death Valley has often captured the imagination and the hearts of unwary visitors and held them in its spell for their lifetime. Such an unwitting victim of this desert magic was Jean Francois de Lamoignon, born in February 1857 at Lamoignon, France, and educated in England, Paris, and Germany as a mining engineer. As seems to be the case with all Death Valley folk heroes, controversy and irreconcilable discrepancies surround every aspect of his life in the region. Initial disagreement arises over the date of the tall, white-bearded, genial Frenchman’s arrival in the Death Valley region and the impetus behind his long journey. While some sources suggest that he served as a sailor before coming to America to work in the mines around Darwin in the early 1870s, it has been most commonly assumed that he arrived here around 1882 to 1884 at the behest of Isadore Daunet, who, hearing about the young mining student through mutual friends, suggested that he take over supervision of the new borax works in the southern part of the valley (Eagle Borax Works).

John Lemoigne about 1915

By the time Lemoigne arrived in this country, however, Daunet had taken his own life, depressed by the failure of both his business venture and his recent marriage.

Once in this country, and possibly forced to stay by a lack of money, Lemoigne quickly became Americanized and acculturated, dropping his aristocratic name and donning the garb and life-style of a Death Valley prospector, although never completely losing his distinctive aura of education and intellect. Reportedly meeting some Indians in the Cottonwood area of the Panamint Range and learning from them the location of a silver-lead mine at which they fashioned bullets for their muzzle-loaders, he filed on this property, known as the Bullet Mine, about 1882, although one source stated it was not located until 1887.

Lemoigne covered a lot of territory in his peregrinations throughout the California and Nevada mining districts, prospecting from Barstow, California, east toward Virginia City and Ely, Nevada, and west toward the high Sierra Nevadas. He seems to have had fairly good luck, for his name is connected with several claims in the Death Valley region alone: the Uncle Sam Lode in the Panamint Mining District, located 11 April 1880 (which, as mentioned, would seem to imply that Lemoigne did arrive prior to Daunet’s ill-fated borax venture); the Independence, located on 14 January 1884, and the Alaska, discovered on 24 January 1884, both in the Union Mining District; the Washington, Robespierre, and Lafayette, located 28 April 1885, in the Deep Spring Mining District; and the Egle and Union mines, two relocations on 3 January 1887, and the Bullion, Stare, Hop, and Ouray, discovered 4 February 1889 in the Furnace Creek Mining District. In early 1890 Lemoigne and Richard Decker were involved together in a chloriding operation at the Hemlock Mine near old Panamint City, though five years later he was working his lead mine and talking some of erecting a smelter for his ore near Keeler. By 1896 he had filed location notices for three quartz claims in Cottonwood Canyon.

Lemoigne Properties

It is rather difficult because of the variety of locations given to determine the exact extent of Lemoigne’s holdings. His lead mine, which remained active through the 1950s, was located in present-day Lemoigne Canyon. According to Crampton, Lemoigne’s silver prospect, complete with shack, was located north of Skidoo, and it was this property that actually supported him and paid his bills and grubstakes. This is at variance with Southworth’s assertion that “He [Lemoigne] was known to depend entirely upon his highgrade silver property in Lemoigne Canyon whenever ready funds ran low.” George Pipkin states that Lemoigne opened the “LeMoigne Silver Mine at the extreme north end of the Panamint Mountains in Cottonwood Canyon,” and also discovered lead “in what is known today as LeMoigne Canyon northwest of Emigrant Springs. LeMoigne’s silver mine could have been the ‘Lost Gunsight Lode’. . .” The 1896 location notices indicate that he did have property in Cottonwood Canyon, and, indeed, evidence of mining activity was found here in 1899 where

the ruins of an old log cabin stand near to where considerable work has been done in former years by some prospectors. A large pile of lead ore lies upon the dump. Cuts have been run and shafts sunk.

In 1897 Lemoigne’s property was mentioned as one incentive for construction of a transcontinental route from Kramer Station on the Santa Fe and Pacific line to Randsburg and on to Salt Lake City that would tap the untouched mineral resources in the Panamint Valley area. It would, it was argued, facilitate shipping from the Kennedy Antimony Mine at Wild Rose, the Ubehebe copper mines, and would put within reach “the apparently inexhaustible ‘low-grade’–worth $50 per ton, with lead accounted at 54 per lb and silver at 70 per oz.–argentiferous galena ores of Cottonwood, known as the Lemoigne mines.”

Prospector John Lemoigne

In 1899 Lemoigne found a large body of high-grade lead ore on his property, but was still hindered by transportation problems and hoping for completion of a railroad into the area so that large quantities could be shipped at a profit. The lead mine was producing so well in 1904 that it was reported that Lemoigne had gone to San Francisco to negotiate its sale: “This property is said by experts to be the biggest body of lead ore ever uncovered on the coast.” Reportedly any grade of lead, up as high as 75% even, could be obtained by handsorting, the silver content varying from 15 to 83 ozs. and gold from $5 to $20. The sale was not consummated, however, and perhaps this was the basis for the oft-repeated tale of how old John, reasserting his often-voiced contempt for negotiable paper, turned down several thousand dollars for his mine because he was offered a check instead of cold hard cash.

Lemoigne was reputedly a very simple, honest man with no particular need or desire for life’s luxuries. Money was relatively unimportant and only necessary to finance his long prospecting trips or to grubstake one or another of his friends. Since it appeared that he would be returning periodically to his lead mine, Lemoigne proceeded to erect a stone cabin there. Frank Crampton recalls:

Often I stopped at the lead prospect, almost as often as at the silver prospect Old John worked, alternately with the lead [the mine near Skidoo). In the old stone cabin (house I presume might be better) he passed some of his time particularly when the weather was cold. He had built the stone house soon after he discovered the lead outcrops and realized they were good possibilities of ore. It was winter he told me when the stone house was built and water could be had from a creek bed that flowed some water. In the spring when the water either was insufficient, [sic] after his first winter at the lead prospect he went up the canyon and built himself a shack. In the shack was the shelf of classics, French, German, English, which he dusted every day and often when I remained a few days with him he would read one of them, as I did also.

Lemoigne Castle at Garlic Spring

In addition to the monetary sustenance afforded him by his mine, Old John also thrived on the goodwill of a host of fellow miners in the surrounding desert region, who considered him a gentleman and true friend. Their ready offers of food and friendship were reciprocated by John’s grubstaking offers. Sometimes this generosity brought amazing and unwelcome results.

One of the stranger stories connected with John Lemoigne and that sounds as if it might have enjoyed some slight embellishment at the hands of Frank Crampton, who first reported it, concerns a construction project at Garlic Spring on the old road between Barstow and Death Valley, where Lemoigne was camped around 1914. Two men whom he had grubstaked brought him a contract to sign, having not only located a mine but also attracted a buyer. Firm persuasion was required to secure Lemoigne’s reluctant signature on the necessary instruments, and his worst fears were soon realized when to his acute embarrassment a steady flow of grubstake profits began pouring in. Because of his strong distrust of banking institutions, Old John persuaded the local storekeeper to take charge of these funds, but that individual soon became nervous because of the large sums he was being entrusted with and the proximity of Barstow and its rough-neck railroad men and other strangers who might be tempted to avail themselves of these riches in an ungentlemanly manner.

To remedy the situation the storekeeper’s wife suggested that she be allowed to construct and furnish a large house for John in the area and thereby utilize the money. Consent was reluctantly given the lady, who proceeded to supervise the erection of “Old John’s Castle,” a monstrosity that daily grew more unwieldly and unattractive. What she lacked in expertise in architectural design and construction, she compensated for in flamboyance and general bad taste. The large, two-story square building soon sported turrets, a spire, dormer windows, gables, and a multitude of chimneys. A covered porch surrounded the bright red structure on four sides, and the whole was accented by green-trimmed windows with blue shutters. Dozens of mail order catalogs were perused, resulting in acquisition of heavy oak furniture, a completely furnished library, a huge kitchen with hot and cold water, wallpaper, and fine carpeting. Pre-dating Scotty’s Castle, this structure reportedly displayed none of the latter’s fine attributes, and was considered nothing more than a white elephant by its owner. The only way to forget such a structure is to blow it off the face of the earth, and that is precisely what Old John did one night with the aid of several boxes of dynamite.

Controversy Surrounding Lemoigne’s Death

That incident, if true, was about the only undignified moment in Lemoigne’s life, which came to an end tragically in 1919. In death as in life Lemoigne has been the subject of considerable controversy. Many cannot even agree on the date of his demise, while, as Southworth writes, the number of people who claimed to have found and buried John Lemoigne reads like a Who’s Who of the desert region. Why Old John was heading toward Furnace Creek Ranch, or away from it, is not definitely known, although reportedly he had not been feeling well for some time and was journeying there to seek medical advice. Whatever the reason, he never reached his destination. According to Crampton he and Shorty Harris found the body lying under a mesquite bush about nine miles northwest of Furnace Creek Ranch near Salt Well. Apparently overcome by the heat or a sudden heart attack, Lemoigne had been unable to untie his burros, who perished with him. Proving his personal involvement in the event, Crampton says, are pictures he took of Old John and one of his burros as they lay when found. Reporting the incident at Furnace Creek Ranch, Crampton and Harris returned with Harry Gower, Oscar Denton, Tom Wilson, and a couple of other Indians for the burial, with Gower carving a grave marker.

Death Valley Scotty

According to Harry Gower, however, it was Death Valley Scotty who found Lemoigne eleven miles north of Furnace Creek and returned to the ranch to report it. Upon receiving the message at Ryan, Gower contacted the coroner at Independence and was told to go ahead and bury the body. Arriving at the scene with an Indian companion, Gower found the body partially eaten by coyotes and John’s gold watch hanging in a mesquite bush. Because of the hardness of the ground and the intense heat, the grave was only dug about two feet deep and was quite narrow. Lemoigne was wrapped in a blanket and lowered into the grave, over which a mound was erected and marked with stones and a board. Gower later sent the coroner the watch and a bill for $40 to cover costs of the burial detail. Gower states he was told later that Scotty felt he should have gotten the money, but no words ever passed between the two on the subject. Cower evidently did have some strong feelings about Crampton’s declared part in the whole affair:

The guy who is going to have a tough time getting squared with me is the alleged author who claims to have been associated with Le Moigne, and buried him on the desert. If he gains a bit of notoriety by his statement I have no objection as I got paid for my work. I’m sore because I doubt if he ever had the guts to dig a hole two feet deep in Death Valley in August.

Adding further confusion is Scotty‘s version:

In June 1918, I found him [Lemoigne] stretched out dead. He must have been on his way to Furnace Creek with his burros. I dug a hole and buried him right there by a clump of mesquite. Then I went on to Furnace Creek to give the notice. Cost me twenty dollars for feed for my string of mules. Gower got the ten-dollar fee for burying old John when the work was already done. I got nothing!

In 1922 when Sarah Perkins traveled through Death Valley, she by chance stumbled upon a sun-bleached board set in the sand. Written on it in pencil, she said, were the words “John Lemoign, Died Aug. 1919.” Nearby were the skeletons of two burros and a coffeepot beside a fireplace. This supports Gower’s contention that he buried John in August 1919, and pretty conclusively disputes Southworth’s romantic statement that “in deference to Old John, who always believed his burros were human, each body was buried in a separate grave.”  At the time of his death John Lemoigne’s estate was valued at about $10.00 after all expenses were paid.

Lemoigne gravesite

Lemoigne gravesite location

Later History of the Lemoigne Mine

Because no heirs were known to exist, Beveridge Hunter and Bill Corcoran relocated Lemoigne’s eight mining claims, soon, disposing of the property to a W.J. Loring and associates. Because of the area’s remote location, Hunter and Corcoran realized they would either have to sell the mine outright or enlist the cooperation of someone with the investment capital necessary to turn the property into a paying concern. A Brandon & Co. of Boston had an option on the group, but Brandon was killed before a sale could be consummated. Corcoran and Hunter then managed to interest Harry C. Stemler and Associates of Tonopah, who were in some way connected with the Loring interests, in the property, but they insisted on visiting the mine before making a firm decision. Despite a harrowing experience during the return from the mine, during which Stemler and Corcoran almost died from thirst and exhaustion, the former decided to take a bond on the property. The claims deeded to him in Lemoigne Canyon were the Blossom, Captain, Captain No. 2, Captain No. 3, Hunter, Atlantic, Pacific, and Sunshine.

In August, despite the heat, Corcoran was told to take charge of development work and intended despite the 132-degree temperature to begin a force immediately at three places on the ledge; ore would be hauled to Beatty by tractor across the floor of Death Valley. Incentive to begin operations was provided by an engineer for the Loring interests who declared that the ore in the mine would average 61-1/2% lead for the full length of the three claims, and who also estimated that there was $2,500,000 worth of ore in sight. Development work already consisted of a twenty-five-foot tunnel previously excavated by Hunter and Corcoran and a twenty-five-foot-deep shaft, plus several cuts made to keep track of the vein’s course and of the consistency of its values.

The eight claims acquired by Stimler were later quitclaimed to the Interstate Silver Lead Mines Corporation of Nevada, but by 1923 a W. R. McCrea of Reno and a John J. Reilly, who once leased on the Florence Mine at Goldfield, were developing the property, on which they held a lease with option to buy, and were driving a crosscut tunnel to intersect the rich ledge. In May 1924 it was thought that the main lode was discovered when a rich strike, “bigger than anything before encountered in any of the workings at the mine,” was made on the Birthday Claim west of the old workings.

By June Corcoran had purchased more machinery for the mine and, in addition, all the buildings and pipelines belonging to Carl Suksdorf at Emigrant Spring, with plans underway to make this one of the biggest lead-producing mines in the western United States. A year later John Reilly had organized the Buckhorn Humboldt Mining Company and had purchased the Lemoigne Mine from Corcoran and Hunter for a substantial amount of cash and stock. McCrea became the company’s manager and principal owner and, later, president, after Reilly’s death in March 1925. Immediate plans were made to construct an eight-mile auto truck route to the Trona-Beatty Road in order to facilitate shipping to the smelters. Four leasers were also working on ground near the company property, though by April the number had increased to ten, forcing two trucks to leave every day loaded with shipping ore. Property of the Lemoigne South Extension Mining Company (composed of Messrs. Turner, Burke, McDonald, Clark, and Smith) adjoined the Lemoigne Mine proper and was uncovering ore running up to 80% lead. [

Development was still being steadily pushed by the Buckhorn Humboldt people in the spring of 1926 to uncover the large amount of high-grade ore in sight as well as the vast quantities of low-grade milling ore that seemed to be present. Several lessees were at work, notably on the Miller Lease and the Dollar Bill Matthews ground. By May only four sets of leasers were operating, and the number was evidently reduced to three by June. In 1926 the California Journal of Mines and Geology described the mine as located in the LeMoigne District and still owned by the Buckhorn Humboldt Mining Company. It was under lease to L.P. (?) McCrea, M. L. Miller, and associates of Beatty, Nevada. A twenty-five-foot tunnel had been driven west in the canyon north of the main camp and was intersecting an ore lens from which 150 tons of ore had been shipped running 50% lead and three to five ounces of silver per ton. South of these workings on a ridge above Lemoigne Canyon a 165-foot tunnel had developed a lens from which 100 tons of ore had been shipped averaging 50% lead with five ounces of silver per ton. The ore was being hauled by truck to Beatty at a cost of $18 per ton. Two men were employed at the mine. The property must still have been active in 1928, because in May of that year Margaret Long mentions a road that was washed out and would have to be regraded by the next truck through to Lemoign.”

McCrae and the Buckhorn Humboldt Mining Company continued to hold the Lemoigne Mine from 1937 through 1948, although by 1938 the twelve claims were reported as idle.  Bev Hunter later refiled on the property, subsequently leasing it to W. V. Skinner of Lone Pine, who produced a little ore in 1953. By 1962 Roy Hunter was evidently attempting some sporadic mining activity at the old mine. Total production from the property was said to have a gross value of approximately $38,000, realized from the shipment of over 600 tons of ore containing 30% lead, 7% zinc, and 4 ozs. of silver per ton. During its active lifetime up to 1963, the Lemoigne Mine was developed by about 600 feet of workings taking place on three levels and one sublevel, which were connected by a vertical shaft, and by three stopes. The shaft on the property had been extended to about eighty feet in depth.  Again in 1974 mining activity resumed on the site, and by December 1975 a Harold Pischel was working on a previously unexplored hillside looking for sulfide ore. Material reportedly carrying 14 ozs. of silver per ton was being stockpiled at the adit entrance.

Present Status (1981)

The Lemoigne Mine is located in Lemoigne Canyon, the southernmost canyon of the Cottonwood Mountains, which form the northerly extension of the Panamint Range. The claims, ranging in elevation from 4,950 to 5,700 feet, are reached via a jeep trail, crossing an alluvial fan, that is often subject to severe washing and that trends north off of California State Highway 190 approximately three miles east of the Emigrant Ranger Station. The claim area is reached after about 9-1/2 miles of very rough 4-wheel driving. This writer was unable to personally view the mine because the road into Lemoigne Wash was barely visible following a series of heavy downpours in the area during the early fall of 1978. The site was visited by. the LCS crew in 1975 and the following account of structures found is based on their data and on that collected during an archeological reconnaissance of the area.

Near the junction of the North and South forks of Lemoigne Canyon are the remains of a campsite appearing to date from the 1930s. Only a leveled tent site and assorted debris were found. On up the road at the entrance to the Lemoigne claim the trail forks again into two short smaller canyons, both showing evidence of occupation by man. The southern or left one contains a relatively new corrugated-metal structure with a nearby pit toilet, a metal trailer, and the only structure of real historic significance in the area–the rock cabin built by John Lemoigne in the 1880s. This latter is a partial dugout, carved into the bedrock and lined with wooden cribbing. The front is part stone and part wood, with flattened five-gallon metal cans being used for paneling in some areas. Shelves are built into some of the walls, which tends to verify this as Old John’s home:

When Jean arrived in America, he had with him volumes of the classics in French, English, and German, which he kept on shelves in the stone cabin he built below his lead prospect in a canyon west of Emigrant wash . . . .

The cabin structure itself is intact but filled with garbage and debris. Crampton states that when he visited Lemoigne’s lead property around December 1919 the cabin had already been rifled of everything of value. Beyond these buildings the road leads to an active mine adit surrounded by some five other small adits dating from an earlier period.

The northern canyon fork leads up past the site of at least four leveled habitation sites, about eight feet square, either for tent houses or wooden buildings, set against a cliff and about one-tenth of a mile below a one-chute ore bin. Wooden boards, stove parts, and old bedsprings were found scattered through the area. The ore bin is in a narrow box canyon and at the foot of a rail tramway descending on a very steep incline from a mine tunnel on the ridge above. The tramway was controlled by a gasoline-powered winch still in place at the entrance to the tunnel.

Evaluation and Recommendations

Pete Aguereberry

Pete Aguereberry

The Lemoigne silver-lead-zinc Mine was probably first worked in the late 1880s, though the exact location date was not found by this writer. The mine was only sporadically worked by Lemoigne, who spent most of his forty years in the Death Valley region searching for minerals and performing assessment work for fellow miners. A newspaper article in 1923, in fact, mentioned that Lemoigne had confined his development of the area to shallow surface holes. According to a recent study of the claims, they have been developed through the years by about 1,300 feet of workings. Most ore removed was high-grade, the many low- and medium-grade pockets being considered economically infeasible to mine during the 1920s when the mine saw its highest production rate. According to a 1976 report, the total value of all metals recovered at the Lemoigne Mine, based on January 1976 prices, would be about $116,000.

The historical significance of this site is not based on the volume of ore produced at the mine or on its monetary value. Its importance lies in its early discovery date and especially in its associations with John Lemoigne, considered by many to be the dean of Death Valley prospectors. It is not that Old John is completely forgotten–his lead mine is shown on the USGS Panamint Butte quad at the end of a canyon that also bears his name. His gravesite is marked on the Chloride Cliff quad just south of the Salt Springs jeep trail. (Attempts to locate the site by this writer were unsuccessful, though the wooden cross was still in place in February 1973.) It is simply that he is often overshadowed by the braggadocio of such highly-publicized wanderers of the desert as Death Valley Scotty and Shorty Harris. Leomoigne was a completely different breed, more attune in tastes and life-style to Pete Aguereberry, the other transplanted Frenchman in the valley who, like Old John, stayed to pursue a quiet and uneventful life in the desert they both loved so well.

Lemoigne’s biographer, Frank Crampton, expressed his appraisal of the man this way:

Old John typified the breed of prospectors and old-timers and the Desert Rats who centered on Death Valley. Few, if any, did any prospecting of any consequence in the valley, they were not looking for non-metallics but for gold, silver, lead, copper or one of the other of the lesser metals. Death Valley was not the place where metals were found in paying quantities and the breed knew it . . . . Old John was the best of them all. He had the knowledge of a highly educated man, and the fortitude to accept the fate that had befallen him when he arrived at Death Valley and learned that Daunet was dead. But the greatest of all attributes was that he loved the desert, and Death Valley best of all, and without effort adapted himself to it. Old John Lamoigne [sic] deserves imortality [sic] He was the epitome of them all and represents the best of a breed of men who are no longer.

Grave of John Lemoigne

Because the Lemoigne Mine was the scene of some of the earliest mining activity within the monument and the home of John Lemoigne until his death in 1919, the mine area and the stone cabin that Lemoigne built are considered to be locally significant and eligible for inclusion on the National Register. The leveled tent or house sites and ore bin in the box canyon probably date from the 1920s era of mining activity when the mine was being developed and was shipping ore. Some sort of camp had to have been situated here to house the Buckhorn Humboldt Mining Company employees and the various lessees. Based on the 1975 LCS research notes, these structures are not considered significant.

An interpretive marker near the stone cabin identifying the site would be appropriate. The tent foundations and old ore bin should be mentioned as probable vestiges of early twentieth-century activity in the area. An exhibit at the visitor center might dwell further on Lemoigne’s life, emphasizing his long tenure in the valley, his knowledge of the classics, and his degrees as a mining engineer–traits which set him apart from his desert comrades.

Attempts were made by this writer to determine the extent of mining enterprises in Cottonwood Canyon further north where Lemoigne had filed on some quartz claims in the late 1880s. An arduous all-day hiking trip failed to turn up any signs of such activity. A monument employee, however, stated that about 1976 the remains of two buildings were found at Cottonwood Springs. One corrugated-steel and tin shack contained a wood-burning stove and a set of bedsprings. No evidence of mining was seen in the immediate area, and no prospect sites are shown on the USGS Marble Canyon quad.

from: Death Valley Historic Resource Study
A History of Mining – Vol. I, Linda W. Greene – March 1981